Privatization program to gather speed this year The government aims to sell up to 24 percent of the country’s fourth-largest lender, Emporiki Bank, and sees France’s Credit Agricole as a front-runner to buy the stake, a senior Finance Ministry official said yesterday. «The government plans to sell immediately about 20 percent of Emporiki, maybe up to 24 percent,» the official, who declined to be named, told reporters. French bank Credit Agricole owns 9 percent of Emporiki and 11 percent of the voting rights. The Greek government holds a 9.5 percent direct stake in the bank and an additional 30 percent indirectly through state pension funds. «Credit Agricole has the advantage,» the official said. The ministry also said it would accelerate the privatization of ATEbank, which is 83 percent state-owned, and also start procedures to list state-controlled gas utility DEPA and the Postal Savings Bank on the Athens bourse. (Reuters) Fuel costs hit Attica Holdings’ 2005 earnings Ferry operator Attica Holdings said yesterday that its 2005 net profit fell 21.1 percent to 28.1 million euros due to higher fuel costs. «It should be noted that the very high cost of fuel affected the fleet’s operating expenses in 2005 by an amount in excess of 20 million euros,» the company said in a statement. It added that 2004 results were also boosted by 8.06 million in extraordinary gains from the sale of five vessels. For the year, group turnover rose 3.7 percent to 385.1 million euros. (Reuters) Laiki Bank Cyprus’s second-largest bank, Laiki, yesterday announced a 63.7 percent increase in profits for 2005 after allowing for provisions for bad debt. The bank’s year-end results showed profits after bad debt provisions of 59.8 million Cyprus pounds ($123.9 million ), while profits before provisions rose to 106.3 million. Laiki hailed the results as «extremely satisfactory.» It said its operating income also increased by 15.4 percent to 257.5 million pounds due to a growth in net interest income and predicted another good year in 2006. «Indicators for the Cyprus economy are positive and the tourism industry is registering a satisfactory recovery,» the bank said. Laiki has branches in Britain, Australia and Greece, and last November acquired small Serbian bank Centrobanka. Earlier this month, British heavyweight HSBC sold its 21.16 percent stake in Laiki to Marfin Financial Group, Tosca Fund and Laiki shareholders for 194 million euros ($235 million). (Reuters) Thessaloniki projects Work for Thessaloniki’s undersea road artery, planned to decongest the city’s traffic, will begin in September and is expected for completion in 2012, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said yesterday. The government is awaiting approval by the European Commission for the project by the end of April at the latest. The contractor for the city’s biggest project, the metro, will be installed in May, Souflias said.